Monday, September 30, 2013

Irish children to learn about atheism in school

From The Guardian:
In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, lessons about atheism are to be taught in Ireland's primary schools for the first time.

The lessons on atheism, agnosticism and humanism for thousands of primary-school pupils in Ireland will be drawn up by Atheist Ireland and multi-denominational school provider Educate Together, in an education system that the Catholic church hierarchy has traditionally dominated.

Up to 16,000 primary schoolchildren who attend the fast-growing multi-denominational Irish school sector will receive tuition about atheism as part of their basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems, including other religions.

From September 2014 children could be reading texts such as Dawkins' The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, according to Atheist Ireland. ...

Jane Donnelly, a member of Atheist Ireland and a parent of two children in an Irish secondary school, welcomed the creation of an atheism alternative for Irish pupils.

"I opted my two girls out of religious education classes and they were told to go to the library and find a philosophy book to read during RE instead. The range of philosophy books was very limited so I sent them into school each day with a copy of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion for them to read."

Hmm,... keep in mind that 93% of Irish children attend Catholic schools. That "multi-denominational Irish school sector" might be "fast-growing," but it's still tiny.

Furthermore, you have to wonder how atheism will be taught by teachers who are almost certainly overwhelmingly Catholic, themselves. I know how this would work in America, at least!

And atheism isn't a religion. If you're teaching about world religions, then atheism certainly deserves a mention, and it's undeniably pertinent to courses in ethics and belief systems. But we atheists don't have any dogma. We don't have a holy book. We don't have a pope.

Richard Dawkins is no more an atheist than I am. He has a greater ability to write about atheism than I do, but he has no more right to define it. I'm happy to see his books getting read, especially by young people, but atheism doesn't have a hierarchy. So each atheist needs to decide what he believes for himself.

Sure, reading Dawkins - and even reading me - is an important part of that. Listening to what other people have to say is one way we decide what's true and what isn't. So all of this is fine, but... atheism isn't just another religion.

Still, if children are taught about world religions, or if children are taught about ethics and belief systems, atheism should have a place at the table. And the fact that it's happening in Ireland, which has been one of the most god-ridden places* on the planet, is a huge advance.

Maybe it will come to America next, huh? :)

* Notes from that same article:
• God is omnipresent in the 1937 Irish constitution, with article 6.1 stating: "All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people"; and article 44.1 noting: "The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion."

• Since the foundation of the republic, the Catholic church controls up to 93% of the state's 3,200 primary schools.

• The Catholic church's near monopoly of influence in education means that the ultimate power in each school is the local Catholic bishop. ...

• The Irish taxpayer, and not the church, pays the bills for all the schools the hierarchy controls.

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